The Rubber Band.

I’m going to start this post by letting you get a glimpse of my daily routine upon awakening. Exciting right? Somedays the routine is nice and offers me a gentle start into my work day, and others I wake up too late and hurriedly go through the motions.

  1. Roll myself out of my bed, and get my fat dog to roll out of the bed at the same time. Get her moving, even if it is back to the couch.
  2. Maybe eat some yogurt, make a cup of coffee, make my dog some breakfast too.
  3. Shower, etc.
  4. Walk the dog.
  5. Get back to the apartment with a little time to spare, and get on Reddit for a few minutes.
  6. Leave for work.
  7. Rinse and repeat pretty much everyday.

Now, I’m on the road again so this has changed quite a bit, but the one thing that is a constant (other than the shower and whatnot) is my daily browsing of Reddit. Usually, that occurs a bit later in the day, typically before my head hits the pillow these days. During my (earlier than normal) browsing, I came across this video. A video all about the philosophy of suspense and it’s place in film. Now a fair warning, I am by no means a film writer so I won’t focus too much on picking out the nuances of film, so go read Kirk’s work, our in-house film buff.

As I began to watch the video and the main points start to unfold and arguments are made, I was reminded of a bit of suspense in this Milwaukee hotel room, one that vaguely smells of Black & Milds. More on that later.

Despite the overwhelming cigar smell seeping its way in my room, I started to think about a certain point in the video where Aaron Sorkin and Quentin Tarantino are brought on screen to describe how dialogue is used to mask exposition (4:40). “Part of my plan, my method, is to bury it in so much minutiae about nothing that you don’t realize you’re being told an important plot point until it becomes important,” says Tarantino.

Film is by far the best and most natural (in the strangest way) medium that we perceive suspense I believe, but it certainly isn’t the only way. We can apply this to the news cycle lately, where you are buried in the most pointless minutiae for hours on end. Endless amounts of shit, and then, BOOM, we are hit with some sort of huge news story for only a split second it seems. We become aware of it, its existence is tangible, but it disappears into an overwhelming fog of more inconsequential -insert some news network acronym here- news stories. We know that something is going to happen but when, where, or how it will is occasionally something we don’t know. Alfred Hitchcock speaks to this in the same video where he remarks on that idea, and i’ll paraphrase here. The direct quote from Hitchcock begins at the 7:39 mark.

Imagine a conversation between a few people around a table, and a few minutes into the conversation a bomb goes off under the table. Hitchcock notes that that event only gives the viewer a few seconds of shock. Now if you offer up the knowledge of the bomb’s existence, and how long it will take for it to explode, to the viewer before the conversation takes place, it then becomes an experience that the viewer is invested in. I’ll give you my current example: I walked into this hotel room, put my bags down, and immediately smelled the sickly sweet aroma of cheap tobacco products as it continued to aggressively push its way into the room. I was made aware of the possible threat when I stepped into the room that now I should live under constant fear of the fire alarm going off and ruining my computer to the point where you’ll never get to read this. I like this laptop, and my list of monthly expenses doesn’t include repair to a water damaged piece of technology.  If you’ve made it this far, so far so good everyone, and the rubber band stretches even further yet.

Now, more on the rubber band. Tarantino talks more on this at the 9:18 mark during a 2009 interview with Charlie Rose. He argues that the longer you can stretch a scene, like a rubber band, the more suspenseful it will be. A rubber band before it breaks is more suspenseful at shoulder length apart rather than stretched only an inch or two. Similarly, a scene with the trademark dialogue and style of Tarantino, the longer the scene the more potential for suspense exists.

The thing about suspense though, is that there always has to be a conclusion. A conclusion could come 22 minutes later from the beginning of a certain scene in a film, it could be seconds, or, like with my situation, out of absolutely nowhere depending on the next door smoker’s inclination to chain smoking and his/her direct proximity to the state required fire alarm. The way I see it, conclusions to suspenseful situations can be easily manipulated. A few examples:

  • Films? Oh yeah, writers have complete control over their screenplays and how they want scenes to play out. I think we’ve covered this well enough.
  • What about the media and politics, to go back to one of my previous thoughts. I absolutely think so. The media gets stories and they report on them, but more often than not you’ll get the classic, “More on that later,” or the old stand-by, “tune in at 11!” They control the pace in which the pieces are reported, and when they introduce the situation that presents suspense. And if you’re anything like me and find yourself late at night watching local news for some reason, you’ve definitely said something along the lines of, “hmmm, maybe I will stay up until 11 to hear what happened when the only stop light malfunctioned in that single street town I have never heard of.” Riveting shit. The same happens with politics and politicians, especially during major election seasons. We saw this happen many times in the last presidential elections. Some huge discovery has been made about one candidate, to their chagrin, but investigations are still taking place so we won’t hear about that until a later date. Complete control. Injecting suspense into situations like that creates interest, mass turmoil and debate, and of course, more viewers.

As long as there is some semblance of a conclusion later on, everyone is all good. Good or bad, a conclusion is welcomed. The video I’ve been referencing puts it perfectly,

“We need that catharsis, the new stability – horrifying as it is – in order to release, reset, and prepare for what’s next.”

Sometimes you can even attempt to create your own conclusion. Think I’ve been under the covers for a majority of the time spent typing this? Just waiting for the moment that the fire alarm next door cant handle the scent of cheap, wood-tip, flavored cigars anymore? You’re god damn right I have been.

~Ian.

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